POTD: “If” by Rudyard Kipling

This POTD was a huge favorite of my students way way back when I was teaching middle school.  My students used to do recitals from memory, and this poem was always a popular choice.  Sometimes the students themselves would find the poem from the list of options and choose it, but just as often they would be given a nudge from their parents because of the lessons it attempts to teach.  Aristotle tells us that good poetry aims to delight and to instruct, and Kipling’s “If” hits on both marks.

The poem has come to mind recently as I’ve been reading through all sorts of comments from angry fans regarding Auburn’s recent shortcomings on the football field.  It’s weird how contagious not only negativity, but also irrationality can be when it comes to that strange communication of the modern world known as the comment string.  Certain lines just resonate from memory while reading the comments of adults behaving like spoiled children when their team doesn’t meet expectations, bless’em.  “If you can keep your head when all about you … ”  Well, no need to quote it here, I’m pasting the whole thing below.  Enjoy:


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Special thanks to Poetry Foundation for having the poem online.
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